Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is on the Approach

Status Report From: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2006


NASA's next martian orbiter has gotten one step closer to the red planet with the transition from cruise phase to approach phase!

"Cruise is a deceptive term - we certainly weren't playing shuffleboard," joked project manager Jim Graf. "It was a very busy time for the team. Many tests were conducted to ensure that the instruments onboard were functioning properly and our navigators performed trajectory correction maneuvers to keep us on a very precise path to Mars."

Speaking of that precision, the third of four possible course corrections was deemed unnecessary this week.

"The navigation solutions have shown a great consistency since the second trajectory correction maneuver was executed on November 18," said Han You, navigation team chief. "More importantly, the current data indicate that the spacecraft aim for insertion into Mars' orbit is well within the projected target. If the current trend continues, the spacecraft will require only a very small nudge to fine tune the final aim."

The next trajectory correction maneuver opportunity is scheduled for February 28, 2006. The orbiter will arrive at the planet on March 10, 2006.

This diagram illustrates the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's journey from launch to Mars. The inner circle (blue) represents Earth in orbit around the Sun (center). The green and yellow line represents the spacecraft on its way to Mars. The outer (red) circle represents Mars in orbit around the Sun. Four major stages of the mission are labeled: launch, cruise, approach and Mars orbit insertion. Also labeled are the opportunities for trajectory correction maneuvers, or chances to tweak the orbiter's path. The third trajectory correction maneuver was deemed unnecessary due to the precision of the spacecraft's current path.

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